Ahead of his arrival for the G20 Summit, Republic of Korea (ROK) President Yoon Suk Yeol responded to questions from TOI’s Sachin Parashar on India’s presidency, Indo-Pacific and bilateral relations. He described as meaningful India’s focus on the Global South and spoke about enhancing defence and technology ties between the two countries, as well as expanding economic cooperation, while linking their respective Indo-Pacific strategies. Excerpts from the interview:
India has used its G20 presidency to address the concerns of Global South without getting distracted by geopolitical issues. Looking back, what’s your assessment of India’s presidency?
n This year’s G20 summit will be held at a time when the world economy is confronting global challenges and a polycrisis that includes geopolitical competition, high inflation and the protracted war in Ukraine. In order to overcome the challenges facing humanity and move toward shared prosperity for ‘One Future’, the G20 must demonstrate its leadership as it is a premier forum for international economic cooperation. It is very timely that after assuming this year’s G20 Presidency, India has chosen climate change, global health and development, digital transformation and other pressing global issues as this summit’s main agenda items. It is also meaningful that India has led discussions focusing on support for the Global South. I also appreciate India’s leadership as the chair, drawing a consensus to invite the African Union to join G20. The Republic of Korea will continue to actively participate in G20 efforts to respond to the global polycrisis and work closely together with India to address issues concerning the Global South.
The Republic of Korea announced its Indo-Pacific strategy last year looking to play a greater role in the region. Where does India fit into that policy which also recognises China as a key partner? What do you make of China’s assertiveness in the region or what is described as a threat to the rules-based order?
n I believe that the Republic of Korea, as the 10th largest economy in the world, should fulfil its responsibilities and contribute to the international community. This is a way for us to contribute to freedom, peace and prosperity of our own country as well as the world. Under this vision, the government of the Republic of Korea announced its first independent regional policy last year – “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region” – that lays out the principles of cooperation: inclusiveness, trust and reciprocity. As one of the Republic of Korea’s key regional partners, India shares core values that include freedom and democracy. The ROK-India “Special Strategic Partnership” constitutes a crucial part in the implementation of our Indo-Pacific strategy. There is immense potential for cooperation between our Indo-Pacific strategy and India’s vision for Indo-Pacific. We intend to strengthen our partnership in a variety of areas, including defence, economic cooperation and cutting-edge technology, while further enhancing our values-based
solidarity by linking our respective Indo-Pacific strategies.
This will also be your first visit to India as president. Tell us about your expectations for your bilateral meeting with PM Modi. How do you hope to further expand trade and defence ties? I understand there are discussions also for cooperation in critical and emerging technologies.
n This year is special as it marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and India. Thus I am looking forward to my visit, especially my second bilateral meeting with PM Modi. I believe it is crucial to institutionalise and further solidify our framework for bilateral cooperation by strengthening strategic communication and cooperation between our two friendly countries. At our forthcoming bilateral meeting, PM Modi and I intend to discuss how to strengthen our bilateral defence industry cooperation – the K9 self-propelled howitzers, known as Vajra in India, being the best example – as well as how to expand supply-chain collaboration with a focus on IT and other high-tech fields. In addition, we plan to seek progress in the negotiations for upgrading the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with a view to further strengthening the foundation for economic cooperation between our two countries. We also plan to discuss ways to enhance cooperation in the infrastructure sector using the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) as well as joint research and relevant collaboration in space, nuclear energy, bio-health and other key technologies. In addition, we intend to discuss cooperation for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Korean Peninsula, and ways to strengthen coordination in the global arena, including at the G20.
India wants to renegotiate the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with ROK to make it more fair and equitable. Do you see that happening?
n The Korea-India CEPA is playing a crucial role in expanding economic cooperation between our two countries, with bilateral trade having increased 2.6 times, investments 3.4 times and people-to-people exchanges 2.2 times over the past 10 years since the agreement took effect in 2010. Notably, Korean companies have significantly increased investments in India in such high-tech industries as electronics and automobiles. They are contributing to the implementation of India’s policy of promoting its manufacturing industry and playing a positive role across all sectors of the Indian economy, including by expanding production and exports and creating jobs. Building on these achievements, our two countries have been conducting negotiations for upgrading the Korea-India CEPA since 2016 for quantitative and qualitative expansion in trade and investment. I am confident that the Republic of Korea and India will be able to secure mutually beneficial results going forward through the negotiations for upgrading CEPA.